© Ashley Thompson
Windsor Mayor Paul Beazley looks over at West Hants Warden Richard Dauphinee as co-operation talks heat up at a joint council meeting March 27.
What could have been a cause for celebration for local politicians is now a touchy subject following a tense joint council meeting in Windsor.
The agenda set for the March 27 meeting of the Windsor, West Hants and Hantsport councils called for a discussion on joint co-operation followed by the signing of a Joint Inter-municipal Co-operation Protocol.
The protocol has been a work in progress since the three councils participated in an inter-municipal co-operation workshop last fall.
It was largely believed the evening could end with representatives of each council signing their names to the joint document.
Thatâs not quite how things played out.
Windsor letter sparks concerns
Tension started to build between West Hants Warden Richard Dauphinee and Windsor Mayor Paul Beazley, who chaired the joint council meeting, early in the joint co-operation discussion.
Dauphinee wanted to talk about a letter the Town of Windsor sent to Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey, but Beazley felt joint council might not be an appropriate forum for the discussion.
âI didnât add this to the agenda because it came under joint co-operation talks,â Dauphinee said.
The letter, dated March 18, asks for the ministerâs support as the Town of Windsor attempts to lead the way in building a stronger economy.
âOur town has a promising future; however, our futures can be so much brighter as one united communityâŠ one councilâŠ one voice. We believe our economic and social potential can only be achieved working as one municipal unit, taking advantage of every efficiency and every opportunity,â the letter, signed by Beazley, reads.
The letter, requesting a follow-up meeting between Furey and the Town of Windsor, alludes to the possibility of annexation or amalgamation within the region by noting that Windsorâs Municipal Planning Strategy was amended in July 2012.
âWe would be open to exploring any/all options for change, even those options which could involve application to the NSUARB for dissolution, with the ultimate goal of doing everything we can to build a new economy for a combined Windsor/Hantsport/West HantsâŠ the new Avon Region,â the letter concludes.
To discuss or not discuss the letter
Dauphinee noted that while a copy of the letter, drafted in camera as a âlegal matterâ during a March 18 committee of the whole meeting, was sent to the Town of Hantsport, the Municipality of West Hants had to request a copy after learning such a letter existed.
Before Dauphinee could elaborate, Beazley knocked the gavel down, and asked the warden to explain why he wanted to talk about the letter at joint council.
âIâm not even sure how it fits in to tell you the truth,â the mayor said.
Dauphinee argued that he felt the letter touches on topics that are relevant in joint co-operation discussions.
Beazley chose to let the group decide if the discussion would continue. The council members were asked to read the letter and weigh in on whether it was pertinent to the discussion.
Hantsport councillors Faye Hill, Shannon Cunningham and Paul Morton were absent as were West Hants councillors Reed Allenand Randy Matheson.
Coun. Shirley Pineo, of West Hants, noted that the letter lists dissolution as an option, and asked if the Town of Windsor is considering giving up its charter.
Beazley said Windsorâs town council wants to discuss all of their options with the minister.
Talks turn to amalgamation
Gary Cochrane, deputy warden for the Municipality of West Hants, noted that Coun. Scott Geddes, of Windsor, invited the table to talk about amalgamation earlier in the conversation, and heâd like to know what is being discussed by neighbouring councils before entering into an inter-municipal agreement with them.
âIt almost looks like itâs going to try be forced upon us. Thatâs not what the residents want,â Cochrane said.
Geddes said heâs been openly touting amalgamation as the answer to the regionâs economic problems for five years before he was elected to council.
âI have no problem saying that. I believe it is the future of our region. I believe that we spend way too much of our time fighting over ridiculous issues,â he said, listing fire services, libraries and recreation as examples.
Geddes stressed that the current governance model is not working.
âThe reality is on the outside world we have been viewed as dysfunctional,â he said.
Coun. Jennifer Daniels, of West Hants, emphasized that citizens must be provided with facts that will help them decide how they want their councils to proceed.
âWe canât speak on behalf of our residents unless we hear from our residents,â said Daniels.
She said it is time to push past the âdecades of in-fightingâ to come up with a solution that will result in attractive cost savings for businesses and residents.
Harold Bulger, deputy mayor for the Town of Hantsport, suggested the councils ask to sit down with the municipal relations minister together. He added that they are ânot going to do themselves or their residents any good by trying to rush this decision.â
Dauphinee shares his take on co-operation
Dauphinee attempted to redirect the conversation to the process through which the Town of Windsor drafted the letter to the provincial government during a closed meeting.
Once again, Beazley interjected and asked if the subject was relevant to joint council.
âIâll go one step further,â Dauphinee responded.
âThe mayor of Hantsport, he was very polite. He text me early one morning and asked, could he have a meeting with me?â
The two met and Hantsport Mayor Rob Zwicker informed Dauphinee the Town of Hantsport is considering dissolution.
âThey made us aware. I call that working together,â said Dauphinee.
âThat didnât happen between you, Mr. Mayor. I know you have my phone numbers because weâve talked before.â
Beazley stressed that the letter does not say the Town of Windsor plans to dissolve.
âCould you point out in this letter where weâre saying weâre going to dissolution? Why would I call you and tell you weâre going to dissolution when this letter states nothing of that nature?â
Dauphinee added the Joint Inter-municipal Co-operation Protocol is based on trust.
âI think you are blowing this way out of proportion as far as what this letter is asking the minister,â Beazley replied.
Dauphinee expressed concern that West Hants has been excluded from conversations that would impact their residents.
âHantsport and WindsorâŠ have had talks about Mount Denson and Falmouth and Windsor and Hantsport joining. We need to know. Thatâs part of our municipal unit,â he said.
Warden refuses to sign co-operation agreement
Dauphinee announced that he would not sign the Joint Inter-municipal Co-operation Protocol based on the way he learned about the letter in question, and the conversations that followed.
He added that Cochrane could sign the letter in his place as deputy warden if he saw fit to do so.
Daniels argued that the protocol was the result of a positive inter-municipal workshop, staff meetings and the three CAOs working together.
âI do not see any problem in this protocol. I donât see the words amalgamation â Iâll say it again â I donât see the word annexation. I just see a working principle here that we are going to co-operate together and, by signing it, we are making an honest effort.â
Geddes attempted to clarify what the letter was meant to accomplish.
âThere is no agenda. There is no ulterior motive here other than the councillors for the Town of Windsor to gather more information from the minister as to what our options are and how various options work. We are simply trying to educate ourselves. Thatâs it,â he said.
Dauphinee tried to respond, but was interrupted by the mayorâs gavel. Beazley said he was following up with Daniels.
âIf we canât talk thereâs no sense in having joint council meetings, Mr. Chairman,â said Dauphinee.
Beazley proceeded to ask the group what they thought of the proposed protocol before them.
Coun. Laurie Murley, of Windsor, moved that they recommend the councils accept the document, have representatives from each council sign it, and âshow all that we are willing to work together moving forward.â
The motion passed, with Dauphinee voting in opposition.
âI wonât be signing. Iâll take it back to our council,â he said.
Dauphinee shared his displeasure with being interrupted multiple times throughout the meeting. He ultimately walked out, followed by Coun. Tom Brown, prior to the subsequent regional enterprise network (REN) discussion. Pineo had already walked out of the meeting when the warden was interrupted earlier in the conversation.
The warden had one last message for Windsorâs mayor on his way out of the meeting.
âYouâll never catch me cutting you off.â